Last team standing
LSU managed to avoid one final upset in crazy season
Posted: Tuesday January 8, 2008 3:14AM; Updated: Tuesday January 8, 2008 9:49AM
NEW ORLEANS -- On this, the crowning night of an utterly bizarre college football season, the LSU Tigers are to be commended for conquering an extremely difficult obstacle on their path to a national championship.
They managed not to get upset.
All the classic makings were there in the early stages of Monday night's BCS National Championship Game against top-ranked-yet-widely-discredited Ohio State. The team that supposedly couldn't hang with the SEC champions jumped to the early 10-0 lead. The purportedly "slow" Buckeyes got on the board with a decidedly fast 65-yard touchdown dash by running back Beanie Wells.
But the Tigers did not go the way of so many favorites before them this season. They didn't just weather the storm -- they beat it into submission.
"We were down a lot of times this season," said LSU tackle Carnell Stewart as he sat on the Superdome turf basking in his team's 38-24 national-championship victory. "This was nothing new."
It was a season where one highly ranked team after another -- LSU included -- rose to the top only to fall on their faces. Somebody had to be the last one standing. Having already survived three games in which they trailed by double-digits, having endured a rash of injuries that affected every spot on their two-deep and having emerged as champions of what can now be authoritatively declared -- say it with me now -- the nation's toughest conference, the Tigers proved as well as equipped as anyone.
"People have no idea what we went through," said Tigers tackle Ciron Black. "We played through adversity, we played through injuries. And it was all worth it."
Contrary to what the final score might indicate, LSU did not overwhelm Ohio State with its speed, a la Florida a year ago. ("They had just as much speed as anyone we played this year," tight end Richard Dickson said of the defeated Buckeyes.) Nor did the Tigers' defense suffocate Ohio State's offense as brutally as the Gators did -- in fact, they actually allowed more total yards (353) and yards per play (6.3) than they themselves gained (326 and 4.3).
Mostly, what LSU did best was something so many of their similarly touted predecessors failed to in big-game settings all season: The Tigers seized opportunities.
It started with the score tied 10-10 early in the second quarter and Tigers defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois getting his hand up just high enough to block a 38-yard Ryan Pretorious go-ahead field goal attempt.
It continued with quarterback Matt Flynn lofting his second of four touchdown passes to the one spot in the corner of the end zone where receiver Brandon LaFell could haul it in for a 10-yard score.
Shortly thereafter, cornerback Chevis Jackson matched Ohio State wideout Ray Small stride for stride on a Todd Boeckman deep ball down the sideline and came down with a back-breaking interception. Suddenly the Tigers had raced ahead 24-10.
Meanwhile, an Ohio State team whose coach, Jim Tressel, preaches structure and discipline, aided the Tigers' cause with an unfathomable series of brain farts.
Three times in the second quarter, the Buckeyes endured 15-yard penalties (a late hit, a face mask and a personal foul), two of them coming on LSU's first touchdown drive. A roughing-the-punter penalty gave the Tigers new life on the third-quarter drive that put them up 31-10 and caused another 12 months of Buckeyes backlash to begin anew.